Context: The government recently introduced a bill in Lok Sabha which seeks to prohibit any agitation and strike by anyone engaged in the essential defence services.
- Indian Ordnance Factories is the oldest and largest industrial set up which functions under the Department of Defence Production of the Ministry of Defence.
- Recently, the Union Cabinet approved a long-pending proposal to restructure the nearly 200-year-old Ordnance Factory Board (operating 41 ammunition and military equipment production facilities) into seven State-owned corporations under the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013.
- To improve its accountability, efficiency and competitiveness.
- The Defence Minister assured that there would be no change in the service conditions of employees of the OFB, and the decision was aimed at boosting India’s defence manufacturing sector.
- Against the decision, the recognised federations of the employees gave a notice for an indefinite strike.
- The conciliation proceedings initiated by the government at the level of the Chief Labour Commissioner failed in the meeting.
- The government decided to convert the Ordnance Factory Board into seven Defence Public Sector Undertakings.
The intention behind the introduction of the bill:
- It is essential that an uninterrupted supply of ordnance items to the armed forces be maintained for the defence preparedness of the country.
- The ordnance factories should continue to function without any disruptions, especially in view of the prevailing situation on the northern front of the country.
- The government should have the power to meet the emergency created by such attempts (Strikes) and ensure the maintenance of essential defence services in all establishments:
- Connected with defence,
- In the public interest or interest of the sovereignty and
- The integrity of India or security of any State or decency or morality.
The objective of the bill:
- It is aimed at preventing the staff of the government-owned ordnance factories from going on strike.
- Around 70,000 people work with the 41 ordnance factories around the country.
- The ordnance factories form an integrated base for indigenous production of defence hardware and equipment, with the primary objective of self-reliance in equipping the armed forces with state of the art battlefield equipment.
About the Essential Defence Services Bill:
- It empowers the government to declare services mentioned in it as essential defence services.
- The cessation of work of which would prejudicially affect:
- The production of defence equipment or goods;
- The operation or maintenance of any industrial establishment or unit engaged in the production of goods or equipment required for any purpose connected with defence;
- Repair or maintenance of products connected with defence.
- It also prohibits strikes and lockouts in any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services.
- The Bill will replace the Essential Defence Services Ordinance recently.
- If passed it will come into effect retrospectively from 30th June 2021, when the ordinance was promulgated.
Impact of the bill:
- It has a direct bearing on around 70,000 employees of the 41 ordnance factories around the country, who are unhappy with the corporatisation of OFB, fearing that it will impact their service and retirement conditions.
About the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021:
- It comes in the backdrop of major federations affiliated with the 76,000 employees of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) making an announcement that they would go on indefinite strike from July 2021 in protest against the government’s decision to corporatise the OFB.
- Under the ordinance:
- Any person, who commences a strike which is illegal under this Ordinance or goes or remains on, or otherwise takes part in, any such strike, shall be punishable with:
- Imprisonment for a term, which may extend to one year, or with fine, which may extend to ₹10,000, or both.
- Anyone instigating or inciting others to take part in a strike declared illegal under the Ordinance shall also be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend up to two years, apart from having to pay fines.
- Employees who come under the purview of the Ordinance are:
- Involved in the production of defence equipment, services and operation, or maintenance of any industrial establishment connected with the military.
- As well as those employed in the repair and maintenance of defence products.
More about the OFB corporatization